This dish was originally inspired by the paella menu at my favorite Spanish restaurant. I don’t eat seafood, which pretty much prevents me from ever enjoying paella, but every now and then a non-seafood option pops up on the paella menu, usually labeled “fideos.” It’s cooked exactly like paella, in a paella pan, but uses toasted pasta in place of rice and usually features some sort of sausage. It’s meant for an entire table to share, but on two separate occasions I’ve eaten the entire pan myself. It’s that good.
Now, this version is absolutely nothing like anything that ever appeared (or probably ever will appear) on the restaurant menu, but it’s an attempt at Spanish flavors without seafood or access to real chorizo. (I like the larger chunks of link sausage in this, which I don’t use my usual makeshift ground-pork chorizo.)
It makes a pretty decent 4 servings; 6 if you’re a polite eater.
• 12 oz. Andouille (or linguica, or other spicy sausage), cut into 1/4-inch pieces: $2.23
• 4 slices bacon, sliced crosswise into thin strips: 34 cents
• 12 oz. fideos (break up some angel hair pasta into 1/2-inch lengths if you can’t find real fideos): 60 cents
• 2 onions, chopped: 50 cents
• 2 large garlic cloves, chopped: 6 cents
• 3 cups chicken broth (I used Better Than Bouillon base): 21 cents
• 10 oz. cremini mushrooms, sliced: $2.18
• 3 cups petite diced tomatoes, canned is fine (I used the last of the whole ones I had frozen from our last tomato harvest in August; blanched to remove skins, cored, chopped, and cooked down a little bit to thicken): $0
• 1 1/2 tsp paprika: 5 cents
• Parsley for garnish, from the garden: $0
• Salt & pepper to taste: 2 cents
TOTAL: $6.19/4 = $1.55/serving
This dish benefits especially from having an intact mise-en-place (all the ingredients cut, sliced, portioned out and ready to go) before you start. I’ve not done this many times, thinking I had plenty of time to chop the onions or sausage while other things cooked, and the entire process ended up being a rushed, messy disaster; dishes spilling, pots falling, with me running around the kitchen more or less to the tune of “Yakety Sax.” (Come to think of it, most of the events in my life could be soundtracked by “Yakety Sax.”)
If you have a paella pan, use it. Otherwise, use your largest (at least 12 inches) skillet or saute pan. In the dry skillet, toast your fideos over medium heat, stirring frequently to keep them from burning, until most of them are light brown.
(The toasting adds flavor and helps them keep their structure; this is especially crucial if you’re using real fideos.) Remove to a bowl, still stirring occasionally to cool them down.
With the skillet still over medium heat, fry the cut-up bacon strips until crisp and most of the fat has rendered. Remove the bacon pieces to a plate lined with a paper towel. Fry the sausage pieces in the bacon fat, adding them to the paper towel with the bacon.
Now cook the onion pieces in the bacon and sausage fat left in the pan, still over medium heat, until translucent. Mix the garlic and paprika in with the onions and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the mushrooms to the onions with a pinch of salt to help draw out the moisture and cook until they’ve released most of their liquid and the pot is starting to go dry, stirring often, about 10 minutes.
Deglaze the pot with 1/2 cup chicken broth (dry white wine, if you have it, is even better, but I never buy a bottle of wine just to use 1/2 cup). Simmer until the pan is dry again, then add the tomatoes and the rest of the broth. Bring to a boil and then a simmer, simmering for about 5 minutes to combine. Add the pasta, bacon and sausage and simmer until the pasta is just this side of al dente (more time for broken-up spaghetti, less time for fideos; anywhere between 3 and 6 minutes), stirring often.
Taste for salt. If the pot has gone dry, add a little more water just to loosen the mixture.
Put the skillet in the oven, on the middle rack, and bake for 450 F for about 20 minutes, until the top of the pasta is crusty. Some of the pasta will curl up in a “U” shape and the edges will get a little burnt; this is perfectly normal. Sprinkle with parsley and serve. (Don’t forget—the handle will be very hot.)